In January 2018, Russia and Ukraine sparred in the Azov Sea as an ugly war of words between the two countries continues. It has re-ignited memories of the 2004 Black Sea war.
The dramatic standoff between the two countries began on 8 January when Russia conducted a fighter jet drill – called ‘Mars’ – in the Mediterranean Sea. The drills lasted several days, and 100 warplanes (including warplanes, helicopters and drones) took part. The drills took place in a 20-mile zone around Russia’s “Iron Fleet” base at Khmeimim. The Kremlin commented at the time that “Russia will never repeat” the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The most dramatic escalation occurred on 9 January, when the Russian military identified Ukrainian warships in the Azov Sea and sent fighter jets into action. Images of the Russian aircraft dropping bombs over the Black Sea in unison with the increased pressure from the Ukrainian navy’s surface and air vessels. The Russian forces claimed that Ukraine had breached the 2015 Minsk Peace Agreement, which Ukraine denied.
While Russia closed its air space over the Azov Sea, NATO stepped up its presence on the sea to boost Poland’s military capacity. Poland and the Baltic states also condemned Russia’s “unsafe and provocative” actions. But within Ukraine, political observers worry about the possibility of a real war. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, for example, has warned that a Russian-Ukrainian war will not just “end” in Ukraine but will affect the rest of Europe as well.